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American Association of Women, Inc. v. U.S. Department of Justice

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 7, 2016



Royce C. Lamberth, United States District Judge

Now before the Court are defendant's motion for summary judgment and plaintiffs cross-motion for summary judgment, the oppositions, and the replies thereto. ECF Nos. 14, 17, 18, 22, 23, & 25.

For the reasons stated below and by separate order issued this date, defendant's motion shall be GRANTED and plaintiffs cross-motion shall be DENIED by separate order issued this date.


Plaintiff, American Association of Women, Inc., filed the complaint to compel defendant, U.S. Department of Justice, and components thereof, to produce certain records under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552 ("FOIA"). Compl., ECF No. 1, at 1. Plaintiffs request for records under FOIA ("FOIA request") sought records and communications related to, inter alia, the subject matter of a Los Angeles Times Article entitled, "FBI Kept L.A. County jail probe secret from Baca and aides, files show." Compl. 2-3. Plaintiff alleges that they submitted the request to the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") on July 29, 2014, requesting records from January 1, 2011 until "the present." Compl. 3. The FBI, a component of defendant, transmitted by letter dated August 19, 2014, a final determination that any responsive records were exempt from production under FOIA exemption 7(A). Compl. 3; Answer, ECF No. 8, at 2. Plaintiff then appealed the FBI's determination to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Information Policy, also a component of defendant. Compl. 3; Answer 2. Defendant claims that it has satisfied its obligations under FOIA and that the records requested are properly withheld under numerous exemptions, specifically (b)(7)(A), (b)(3), (b)(6), (b)(7)(C), (b)(7)(D), and (b)(7)(E), and seeks summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 and Local Rule 7(h). Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. 1. In addition to filing an opposition in accordance with Local Rule 7(b), plaintiff also filed cross-motion seeking summary judgment as well, alleging that defendant waived the validly claimed exemptions. Pl.'s Cross-Mot. Summ. J. 1.


a. Standard of Review Generally - Summary Judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that "[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The Supreme Court of the United States noted that "the standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment, " rather, "the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-8 (1986). Further, the Court noted that "[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Id. at 248. In another case examining whether there was a genuine issue of material fact, the Supreme Court noted that "facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a 'genuine' dispute as to those facts." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007). The Supreme Court has held that "a party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion . . . ." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Further, "[w]hen the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).

b. Summary Judgment in FOIA

Cases Plaintiff correctly notes that "FOIA generally requires complete disclosure of requested agency information unless the information falls into one of FOIA's nine clearly delineated exemptions." Pl.'s Mem. Opp. Summ. J. 4 (citing 5 U.S.C. § 552(b); Dep't of the Air Force v. Rose, 425 U.S. 352, 360-361 (1976)). Nonetheless, "FOIA cases typically and appropriately are decided on motions for summary judgment." Defenders of Wildlife v. U.S. Border Patrol, 623 F.Supp.2d 83, 87 (D.D.C. 2009). The D.C. Circuit previously held "courts may grant summary judgment on the basis of agency affidavits that contain 'reasonable specificity of detail rather than merely conclusory statements, and if they are not called into question by contradictory evidence in the record or by evidence of agency bad faith.'" Elec. Privacy Info. Ctr. v. Nat'l Sec. Agency, 678 F.3d 926, 931 (D.C. Cir. 2012) (hereinafter "EPIC) (citing Gardels v. CIA, 689 F.3d 1100, 1105 (D.C. Cir. 1982)).

c. Reasonableness of Search

The D.C. Circuit noted that the standard of review related to the agency search for records in a FOIA cases is whether "the materials submitted by the agency satisfactorily demonstrate the apparent adequacy of the search conducted." Perry v. Block, 684 F.2d 121, 127 (D.C. Cir. 1982). To meet this burden, "the agency must demonstrate that it has conducted a 'search reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents.'" Weisberg v. Dep't of Justice, 745 F.2d 1476, 1485 (D.C. Cir. 1984). Further, the adequacy of the search "is generally determined not by the fruits of the search, but by the appropriateness of the methods used to carry out the search." Iturralde v. Comptroller of Currency, 315 F.3d 311, 315 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (citing Steinberg v. Dep't of Justice, 23 F.3d 548, 551 (D.C. Cir. 1994)). Plaintiffs fail to address the search conducted by defendant in this case. After reviewing defendant's description of its search, the Court concludes that defendant has shown that it "made a good faith effort to conduct a search for the requested records, using methods which [were] reasonably expected to produce the information requested." Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. 13-18; Oglesby v. U.S. Dep't. of Army, 920 F.2d 57, 68 (D.C. Cir. 1990) (citations omitted).

d. Exemptions Claimed

Next, defendant argues that it properly applied exemptions to withhold the records responsive to plaintiffs FOIA request. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 14, at 18. Specifically, defendant asserts that the records were exempt from disclosure primarily under § 552(b)(7)(A), as well as under § 552(b)(1), (b)(3), (b)(6), (b)(7)(C), and (b)(7)(E). Id. at 24-25. It is well-settled that FOIA provides "a general philosophy of full agency disclosure unless information is exempted under clearly delineated statutory language." Dep't of Air Force v. Rose, 425 U.S. 352, 360-361 (1976) (quoting S. Rep. No. 813, 89th Cong., 1st Sess., 3 (1965)). Therefore, ...

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